This guest blog was written by Erica Morrow, the owner of Slow Road Photo, a family and student portrait company in Minneapolis, MN. Erica is always on the hunt for honesty, joyful family moments, and beautiful natural light. Read more about her at the end of this article.
I naively dove head first into school photography. I assumed that once I was officially in business, I would just be able to figure things out step by step.
But the learning curve was a tailspin, and I can’t even tell you how grateful I was in those early years for patient and gracious clients who stuck with me as I made every single rookie mistake in the book.
Then another time, I did a session with a family and I just knew as I was taking the photos that they were going to be some of the cutest I had ever taken! It was in the midst of a weekend packed full with sessions, and by the time I got to my computer at the end of the weekend, I realised that I had somehow recorded over my memory card, thus erasing a huge number of photos from that particularly awesome session.
I remember getting to a session early in my career and COMPLETELY blanking on how to adjust the settings in my camera. The settings! Like camera skills 101! Guys, this was a paying client. And here I was, completely frozen and forced to fake enough to take at least a few photos that were exposed correctly enough. Of course, I came home and cried and swore I would never take another photo as long as I lived. I was officially switching careers and becoming a professional Netflix watcher.
Guys, it was bad. I had to tell the client (they were furious) and somehow forgive myself (which took way longer than it probably should have). It was another of those moments where I thought my career was ending before my eyes.
But ever so slowly, school by school, mistake by mistake, I started to be able to not only breathe normally while I was photographing a student but actually have fun doing it! The thing is, I would have never gotten there without the mistakes. Those cringe-worthy moments that make you blush still when you think about them.
But as much as I hate to admit it, I’m learning all the time that those mistakes have actually become my superpower. And your mistakes can be the same for you! I want to share with you three ways that failing has actually become the greatest contributor to my success.
I Am More Organised
You would think that making mistakes would make me shyer than ever. And at first, it did. But I started to realize with every mistake that there was help out there. I began looking for solutions to the mistakes I continued to make.
I have added systems to my workflow to help stay on top of my to-do list. With school photography, we are dealing with hundreds if not thousands of customers in a school year. It is not a stretch of the imagination to say that I was drowning in galleries and contact lists and emails. Once I found other programs to lighten my load, it was a game changer and the mistakes became fewer and fewer.
We use Slack, which is a really powerful tool for organising the work of many people on a team. I have an assistant as well as multiple photographers in my business, so we use Slack almost daily to communicate schedules, ask questions, send files, and work through our to-do lists.
I especially love that we can have separate communication threads set up for each school we serve to keep everything organised. Having all of our work in one place has helped us avoid dropped balls because we are no longer scouring through text messages, emails, and voice messages for the info we need.
We use GotPhoto to handle all of our image delivery, communication with families, and shipping. By automating the different pieces of our workflow, we aren’t recreating content and having to remember when to send things to clients, from emails to batch shipping. So that once we set the job to selling the process will be the same for every school.
Getting all of that workflow automated helps us to create a consistent experience with each school, too, unlike before where we were doing things haphazardly (and thus increasing the number of things done incorrectly – or forgot to do at all!)
No more forgetting to send out emails (which I have done) or failing to order the right size of print for a customer (which I have also done). All those little mistakes added up to frustrated clients and a discouraged me, and I’m never going back to doing it without a system that manages those details on my behalf!
I have developed a more predictable flow with schools so that there is less room for the unexpected. Previously, in the early days of my photography business, I wouldn’t have thought to build in any of these tools. Now my work, my client relationships, and my peace of mind have all improved because of all of the useful tools I have put in place!
I Am Braver
There is nothing like having to stand in that uncomfortable place and own your mistake to a client. If you haven’t received the joy of this experience yet, just wait. Sooner or later, it happens to us all. And in the aftermath of those moments, we have a choice. We can either shrink back and wave the white flag of defeat, or we can give ourselves a little love and as Dory from Finding Nemo would say, ‘just keep swimming!’
Walking through situations that make us uncomfortable and getting to the other side of them builds this courage muscle in us. The knowledge that we can face difficult situations and get through them is one of the most empowering in this life.
I know that when I try something new, I’m less afraid to fail each time. And why? It’s because I have already failed. A lot. And guess what? I made it to the other side each and every time. And if a new project or school or session flops? I know I can get to the other side of that, too.
I Am More Empathetic
When I first started as a school photographer, I felt like I had something to prove. To myself, to my clients, to my fellow photographers. After photographing thousands of students, I think I’m finally starting to get my sea legs a bit. I’m realising that the longer I do this work, the more generous I have become to myself and others. I realise that we are all doing the very best we can, and believe it or not, mistakes will still happen from time to time.
Having been through my fair share of tricky moments, I know that we are all going to take our turn. Responding with empathy and compassion instead of judgment and competition can only come naturally when you are able to honestly say that you have been there yourself, and you get it.
As much as I wish I could go through life mistake free, I can’t help but be thankful for the way it has increased my capacity to understand other people’s mistakes and mishaps. And truly, this work of creating art and capturing moments should be all about putting ourselves in other’s shoes and seeing the world with empathy – even in the mess-ups.
Friends, I don’t think I will ever enjoy the feeling of failure. It’s the worst. Getting my hopes up for something and then seeing it fall through. Seeing more images finding their way to the cutting room floor instead of my client’s gallery. Sending that email and realising it didn’t at all communicate what you hoped. I get it. No one likes that stuff.
But we can choose to let those moments make us more efficient moving forward, more courageous in our endeavours, and more kind towards ourselves and others. The mistakes will still happen, but they do not have to own us. Use every single moment in your business, the good, the bad, and the oh so ugly, to strengthen you and give you the push you need to be better school photographers, business owners and humans!
And most of all: let’s stick in this together! It’s amazing what a little push of encouragement can do. As a community of school photographers, we can help remind one another that our failures are our superpowers. Now go. Try and fail and rise (and do it all over again tomorrow!)